My View: Notes from the Front Row (Opinion)

Local Musings

The former speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once quipped, “all politics are local” how right he was. Here we are in an election season in South Lake Tahoe with candidates out there doing their best to convince you to vote for them while residents chime in with who to support or how to vote on candidates or ballot measure. It makes for a great fall, indeed.

While I am not here to tell you which way to vote but I have developed my own voters’ guide for your consideration.

• There is no free lunch. Years ago, as a student, one of the first books I was tasked to read in an economic class was titled “TANSTAAFL; There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” A great read with one core concept that has remained with me for years. Everything of value has a cost.

Value clean air? It has a cost. Want lots of visitors? It has a cost. No matter the issue, there is a cost involved. The challenge is to understand what that cost is. As voters want services, we love them, and we want roads fixed, trails built, events provided, and more, but we would like to have someone else pay for it, all of it. Would-be politicians are happy to tell you that you can have what you want, at no cost to you. But don’t believe them; there is always a cost.

• It’s about tradeoffs. Elections are not just about candidates and ballot measures, but more essential elections are really about tradeoffs. By voting for a politician that tells you they will not or will vote for a tax, you, my voting friend, are looking for a tradeoff. No sales tax, you probably will not get roads fixed at the pace or level you like, if at all. (See above there is no free lunch.)

Conversely, if you vote for someone who will support a tax, you are trading your money for a specific outcome and making sure they deliver. You cannot have it all; you cannot have fixed roads without the tax funds to pay for it. You are most likely not going to reduce traffic, crowding and congestion, and visitors’ environmental impact without some way to manage visitor volumes. (i.e., basin user fee.) This goes for any issues in front of the council ask yourself what are the tradeoffs? Economic realities and constraints do not go away despite us wanting them to.

• It takes a coalition. I am always fascinated by would be politicians who try and show their leadership by telling you all the things that they are going to do. They have the idea or answer, be it workforce housing, fixing roads, the loop road, transportation, whatever it may be. The reality, they often do not. Even if it is the most genius of solutions that have never been thought of, it takes a coalition to get anything done in this town.

The skills that works to get things done around here is negotiation and compromise. In a place with different states, counties, state, and federal agencies, politicians who think they can get things done without compromise are fooling themselves and you. Consider open-minded candidates with these skills. The best council members exhibit the experience to know how and when to compromise with fellow council members and lots of other agencies.

• Take the long view. When voting for a candidate or a ballot measure, consider the long-term impact and not just the short term. We, as a community, don’t always do well when we focus on the short term. We tend to focus on the immediate issue and not the unintended consequences. You may want to consider those candidates and ballot measures that improve the community over the long term. Unfortunately, everything takes time in this place. Consider candidates and ballot measures that have a strategic view and consider the long-term interest of the community.

• It’s all about the budget? Candidates promise a lot, few, if any, know and understand the budget and the economics of how that budget works. Candidates often never outline how they propose to fund all the items that propose to do (remember there is no free lunch).

The city is in a challenging situation; we have lost millions when the community voted against parking fees, a previous sales tax, and local vacation rentals. At the same time, the city’s obligation to CALPERS continues to grow. Throw in a COVID-19 pandemic, and it gets even more interesting.

The reckoning is here. Where will the money come from? How will new revenue be generated? Taxes, grants, donations? Or what cuts or budget shifts does a candidate propose? Remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

It is a Wrap

Whatever your candidate or ballot measure — vote!

Carl Ribaudo is a columnist, consultant, speaker, and writer who lives in South Lake Tahoe. you can reach him at carl@smgonline.net.

My View: Notes from the Front Row (Opinion)

Local Musings

• The winds of change are here. For a community that often struggles with change, the past six months have given us a peek into some new realities. The COVID-19 pandemic, the protests of Black lives Matter, and the climate fires of California and the smoke we have experienced may all be precursors to what’s next. The question is, will we be ready to confront those changes or not?

• Depending on how you look at it, the COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed sone of the most significant changes the country and this community have ever experienced. Just the enabling technology of online capabilities like Zoom, Go to Meeting, and Web-Ex, once primarily tools of business and government but now adopted by just about everyone, will have a lasting impact.

Travel, healthcare and education will change here in South Lake. Business travel will diminish and it is not sure to what extent it will return. Will insurance companies be willing to ensure those who travel for group functions? Health care has already changed. The last time I saw my doctor was over the phone. That is not going away.

Even the community college will incorporate changes moving into the future. Online classes, which were already a big part of the offerings, will continue. How will that change their competitive environment if coming to South Lake Tahoe is negated, and a student can get a college course online?

Even the local school district will take good things it’s learning from an admittedly challenging experience today, and include those changes into the way it teaches kids in the future. What if kids can take classes at home when they’re sick and the district can get credit for their attendance. The forced use of theses technology platforms will increase change and innovation at a rate South Shore has not experienced.

• Perhaps the most significant change will be the increase in residents from the Bay Area and other parts of California, many of which will move here permanently and, in so doing so, bring about more changes.

According to the US Census, the population in the city of South Lake Tahoe is approximately 22,000. There are estimates that new residents could be as high as 5,000-6,000. Think about it; the possibility of adding 30% of new residents is staggering. Even half that would be huge.

The addition of these new residents will not only provide a boost to the local economy but will change South Shore politically and culturally for decades. Many of these residents will come from technology-based companies with salaries not dependent on tourism with higher expectations for local services and be willing to pay for them. Those businesses that can meet the expectations of these new residents will do well. But these newcomers will also accelerate the South Shore’s shift politically in a more liberal direction aligning with millennials already here.

We are seeing the last days of the old guard. That notion of “you’re not local unless you’ve been here 20 years, which I have never agreed with, forget it. That is over. This group will bring innovative ideas to art, culture, food, recreation, and more. These new residents will bring more than just themselves, their families and their non-tourism dependent salaries; they will bring change in a way that South Shore has not seen.

• The challenge confronting the community will be adapted to these changes. Will, there be a clash of cultures, or will both groups be able to adapt to each other? There is an old saying, “You can’t bend the wind, but you can bend the sails.” South Shore has been feeling the wind, now, can it bend its sails.

Recommendation

I appreciate the anger and sentiment of local residents out protesting visitors that trash the place. It really speaks to need for local government to aggressively step up and taking more aggressive action with these kinds of issues.

Friendly signs don’t matter to a segment of visitors, trash cans don’t matter, its time local agencies started significantly fining people that violate ordinances. How about the Forest Service and local municipalities starting with fining $20,000 for illegal fires? Just a suggestion. What we have is not working.

It is a Wrap

This will be the first pandemic fall in our lifetime and we can approach it from victim’s mindset or a survivors. Let’s look to the positive, embrace the opportunity and possibilities for change. Otherwise, it will be very long winter.

Carl Ribaudo is a columnist, consultant, speaker, and writer who lives in South Lake Tahoe. He can be reached at carl@smgonline.net

My View: Notes from the Front Row

Local Musings

Outside events have a way of bringing to a point the issue that confronts a community.

The same is true with the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the South Shore. The divide that exists in this community is exacerbated by the simple issue of wearing a mask.

Several weeks ago, there was a question posted on Facebook to the effect of how the community can come together and get along. Several people responded with suggestions that included events and activities that would bring people together and create a more positive feeling toward one another in the community. All good, I guess.

The issue of the community getting along is not so much about having events that bring everybody together, it’s much deeper than that. From my view, it’s about the inability of South Shore residents, the city and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to effectively deal with the inevitability of change.

When you get down to it, resistance to change is really about economic security or insecurity and the prism with which different groups of people see that issue and cultural change. Add to it a one-dimensional tourism economy and it gets very complicated.

The amazing thing is as we bicker about different issues; the loop road, paid parking, marijuana, different tax proposals, vacation rentals, affordable housing, etc., the world around us continues to change.

Retirees who have homes and economic security see too many tourists as an anathema, while those trying to establish themselves see those visitors as money that put food on the table.

The government class with good salaries and benefits that outstrip the private sector value things very differently. Those that have had a business for years see things differently than those that are new and whose business models are very different. Generationally, old baby boomers clash with millennials on how they see the future of the South Shore.

Culturally we are divided; look at how the community is combative on SnowGlobe. How about Lime scooters? Some see it as an innovative new way to get around town, and others despise them for their green color and the way people ride them. Because we are unable to engage and compromise on issues constructively, we resort to extreme positions like a ballot measure which deepens the divide. In many cases, local government agencies are slow to respond.

From my view, it’s not about community events, or beer and pizza, though those things might help. It’s about finding the formula to deal with the inevitability of change and how not to fear it, but take advantage of it. We can’t seem to get it right.

One of the issues COVID-19 has done is laid bare the different cultures of visitors and residents. While so many places are on lockdown and because our case numbers have not hit the point of closing up, we have become an even bigger haven for those who want to escape the heat and the virus.

Visitors come, and while many are courteous and wear masks, many don’t. On the one hand, they appreciate that Tahoe is different from the place they came from. That’s why they are here.

They do not seem to appreciate that our hospital resources are much smaller than the resources where they live. They come for the beautiful place that Tahoe is and the outdoor experiences that it affords, but the disregard for parking and the trash many leave speaks differently.

To handle the crowds and their behavior, we are going to have to change how we communicate with visitors and to provide guidelines on how to behave. Remember the old skier’s code you got when you first started skiing? That effort has started with the Tahoe Fund’s Take Care program, but the message needs to be much more aggressive and it needs to come from everyone.

The city of South Lake Tahoe would do well to lay out guidelines as well, the lodging industry, local businesses, environmental groups, the chamber of commerce and the local community. It needs to be posted everywhere. It’s not rude; we won’t lose business. If we don’t start managing visitors by proactively laying out guidelines and expectations, this situation gets worse — what better way for them to understand and sample our culture.

Recommendation

Don’t slack off. Wear a mask and social distance. Protect yourself, protect the community, and protect the South Shore. Stay safe and healthy. Also check out Cuppa Tahoe down at the Y. It’s got a nice little vibe and a great place to hang out. Bring your mask.

It is a Wrap

Is it time for us to rethink spending a quarter-million dollars a year on the Fourth of July fireworks? Just asking.

Carl Ribaudo is a columnist, consultant, speaker, and writer who lives in South Lake Tahoe. He can be reached at carl@smgonline.net.

My View: Notes from the Front Row

Local Musings

It’s been interesting to see that some parts of the community are interested in recalling Councilwoman Tamara Wallace. I think it is a bad idea and a terrible precedent.

Let me be clear, there are times when recalling an elected official may be warranted. If an official violates the law or does some heinous act let a recall happen. But to undertake a recall because you do not like the way a politician votes, to me does not rise to the level of recall.

Think about it. I disagree with many votes Councilwoman Wallace makes; in fact, I think I flatly disagree with her analysis on a variety of issues. But I would not recall her for that. It is terrible and not deserved. If you do not like the way a politician votes, then vote them out.

Reality check. This Fourth of July start to summer is going to provide a reality check in several ways.

First, we are going to have a better understanding of how important fireworks are in attracting visitors. I have always wondered if this destination would still be crowded if we did not have fireworks.

The second reality check has to do with the coronavirus which has certainly wreaked havoc with tourism economies all over the country and the South Shore is no exception.

While we also recognize the importance of tourism. The South Shore has opened and started the recovery process, but it’s clear we are not out of the woods by any stretch.

We simply don’t see consistent wearing of masks and social distancing, the very behaviors that are increasing infections across the country.

Look at Texas, Florida, and the rest of California, just Sunday the Gov. Gavin Newsom shut down bars in seven counties with another eight counties on the recommended list.

At what point will people really take this seriously? Part of the challenge is the ambiguousness of wearing a mask. I appreciate the businesses in town that tell you to wear a mask or do not come in. Guess what, people understand that. The South Shore no doubt depends on tourism, but by not adhering to mask wearing and social distancing, it may be just a matter of time before we shut down again.

Every business can do their part and send a simple and clear message “NO MASK NO ENTRY.” Do not want to play by the social distancing rules, don’t come in. Protect the community and protect our economy.

Confederate flags, confederate memorials and forts named after discredited generals should have been done away with long ago. Let us be clear, the confederacy was about the subjugation of a race of people through slavery to be used in an economic system for the benefit of a white southerners.

This is a welcome development. I have never agreed with these tributes. At the time of the civil war the south in their own view was a separate country. They were defeated and conquered by northern troops. No defeated and conquered country should be able to redefine its history and have monuments to its defeated past.

It’s time to expose the southern “lost cause” narrative which the preservation of southern life was a lie designed to create justification for slavery.

Keeping US forts named after a foreign country general that we defeated makes about as much sense as naming a fort after General Rommel or Admiral Yamamoto.

The confederate flag and monuments are cruel in their existence; there are over 1,700 hundred of them in this country and the only legitimate response is to get rid of all of them.

Recommendation

Wear a mask and social distance. Protect yourself, Protect the community and protect the SouthShore. Stay safe and healthy. Visit only those stores and restaurants that have clear practices about wearing a mask and social distancing.

It is a Wrap

This week is the Fourth of July. We are a badly broken country, red and blue, north and south, people of color and caucasian. In my years I have never seen a wider gap between us. But maybe this Fourth of July we can reach beyond what divides us and see what united us. We are the United States. Maybe just for one day.

Carl Ribaudo is a columnist, consultant, speaker, and writer who lives in South Lake Tahoe. He can be reached at carl@smgonline.net

My View: Notes from the Front Row

Local Musings

What’s next? Most every tourism destination in the country has been in the same position as South Shore — shut down because of the COVID-19 virus.

As some states and destinations begin to reopen, and as the South Shore begins to consider doing the same, it begs the question of what’s next?

There is no question this has been the single most significant impact on the South Shore economy ever experienced, but what comes now?

It’s hard to articulate precisely what will happen, and in the consulting business, you don’t think in terms of single outcomes, you think in terms of scenarios.

Why scenarios? Because if you think in terms of a single outcome, people tend to always gravitate to the best outcome, which is often not likely to happen. So here are three scenarios you might want to consider.

Let’s keep it simple. The first is the optimistic scenario, which would suggest that the South Shore economy will recover swiftly to levels it was experiencing before the pandemic within the next six to 12 months.

The pessimistic scenario is the opposite: the South Shore economy will barely recover, and full recovery will take years, perhaps 3-5 years.

The moderate scenario is that the South Shore economy will recover somewhere in between maybe to 60-70% of where it was pre-pandemic, and that will take 12-24 months.

Given how crippled the economy is with unemployment at 20-25%, it’s hard to see the optimistic scenario have a great chance of happening.

I know some may think the economy will bounce back, but the research and data suggest otherwise. There may be an initial pent up demand, but that is approximately 15% of the California travel market. The rest of the market is not there.

So that leaves us the moderate and pessimistic scenarios. At this point, it’s essential to ask what the impact of either scenario on the South Shore economy will be. Under either scenario, the impacts will be significant.

There will be lodging, restaurants, and stores that either don’t have the financial strength or cost structure to sustain themselves and will either not reopen or will struggle significantly.

It is estimated that 20-30% of restaurants may not survive the end of the year. This will have two significant impacts on job losses and tax revenue.

The former impacts individuals and the latter impacts the whole community. Think about it — a loss of residents and a significant impact on community services. From the city perspective, the impact could be devastating.

A significant loss of transient occupancy and sales tax revenue coupled with the growing demand for retirement benefits, and as the stock market continues to lag, it will require municipalities to put more money into retirement funds.

It is my view the South Shore economy will never be the same, that this event will be transformative, and we have two choices. We can wish it would go back to what we knew pre-pandemic, or we can begin to consider what the economy and the tourism economy could be moving forward.

As this South Shore moves into the post coronavirus future, we will need to find a balance of what worked before and what we will need to succeed in the future. It will not be easy.

Recommendation

My recommendation is every restaurant that has to-go food, for these businesses to have any chance to stay in business, try and support them.

I have tried several, and they have done a really good job adapting. It is a little bit different and takes a bit more time, but don’t let that stop you. Get some take out.

It’s a Wrap.